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Marathon officials outline safety precautions to reduce COVID-19 risk during Monday race

The elite women's division runners break from the start of the 123rd Boston Marathon in Hopkinton on April 15, 2019.Stew Milne/Associated Press

This year’s Boston Marathon, slated for Monday, will include a battery of safety precautions to mitigate the risk of COVID-19 transmission, officials said Thursday.

“We’ve reduced our field size this year by just about 40 percent,” said Thomas S. Grilk, chief executive officer of the Boston Athletic Association, the longtime organizer of the race during a public safety briefing near the Copley Square finish line. The race was canceled last year due to the pandemic.

“We’ve eliminated the athlete’s village in Hopkinton,” Grilk said. “We’re implementing a rolling start for the first time. We’re also starting an hour earlier, just to space everybody out.”


Authorities know of no credible security threat to the proceedings, said Joseph R. Bonavolonta, special agent in charge of the FBI Boston office.

“At this point in time, neither the FBI nor any other agency in the United States government is aware of any specific or credible threat directed at this year’s race,” he told reporters, while also urging the public to remain vigilant and “say something” if they see suspicious behavior.

Dr. Pierre A. D’hemecourt, a co-medical director of the marathon, laid out additional COVID safeguards.

“Starting tomorrow, [and continuing] Saturday, Sunday, any of the athletes coming in town to get their registration in order to get in the Hynes Center for that, they’ve got to show up ... at the medical tent right over there and provide proof of their vaccination, proper vaccination,” D’hemecourt said on Thursday.

That shouldn’t be a problem for most runners, he said.

“If they don’t have that, and we suspect that about 95 percent will actually have proper cards by a survey sent out, then they get a COVID test,” D’hemecourt said.“If they have a negative COVID test, or they have positive proof of vaccination, then they will be granted a bracelet. ... They have to wear that the whole weekend to get into any of the venues, including the buses to start the race.”


Masks will be required on the buses, he said, and the rolling start will go a long way toward protecting participants.

“Between 8 and 9, the elite athletes, the wheelchair athletes, the para-athletes, the hand cyclists, will be starting the race,” he said.

That’ll help with social distancing, he said, and race officials aim to protect the community too.

“And I think getting the word out, perhaps even with this [news] conference, is to not congregate in large groups” of spectators, D’hemecourt said. “And when you have to associate, when you have to get together, you have to wear a mask.”

Security also will be robust, according to Samantha Phillips, director of the Massachusetts Emergency Management Agency.

“In addition to police, fire, emergency medical services from host communities, more than 1,000 state and federal law enforcement personnel will assist with security,” Phillips said.

A bag check system will be in place for spectators.

“There will be areas along the course with enhanced security procedures including checkpoints and bag checks,” Phillips said, adding that spectators are discouraged from bringing a number of items, including weapons or items that could be used as weapons.

And drone hobbyists? Stash your devices in the garage.

FAA restrictions “are in place during the Boston Marathon for the entire length of the course,” she said.” So please take your videos and phone [pictures] from the ground level.”


Her words were echoed by State Police Lieutenant Colonel James Hanlon.

“We do have plainclothes, uniformed officers, K-9 officers, bomb detection officers, and the Massachusetts State Police Air Wing that’ll be providing security to the cities and towns along this route,” Hanlon said.

Law enforcement officials are working tirelessly to keep the race safe, Bonavolonta said.

“Everyone participating in this year’s marathon should know that we are singularly focused on finding and stopping any potential threat, and we are working around the clock to ensure this year’s race is a safe and successful one,” he said.

Travis Andersen can be reached at travis.andersen@globe.com.